St. Joseph parishioner brings pro-life message to thousands every day

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PROVIDENCE — Driving by La Salle Academy in Providence, passersby waiting to turn east at the intersection of Smith Street and Academy Ave are faced with a billboard featuring a sleeping baby and the message, “I’m a miracle. Life begins at conception.” The billboard is sponsored by Prolife Across America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading a pro-life message through advertising campaigns, and includes the organization’s hotline number for expectant mothers seeking pregnancy support.

The billboard and others like it throughout the state are there because of the efforts of Georgette Duguay, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish, Woonsocket, and recipient of a Lumen Gentium Award in the category of Respect Life. For the past 15 years, Duguay has served as the volunteer regional coordinator for Prolife Across America’s media campaign in Rhode Island, fundraising and arranging with ad companies for the billboards to bring their pro-life message to people around the state.

“I think it chose me,” she said when asked why she decided to become involved with the ministry. “I always say the good Lord says you don’t choose me, I choose you. Seemed like the right thing to do.”

Her work began in 2002 when she attended a pro-life convention in New Orleans and met Prolife Across America Director Mary Ann Kuharski. Learning the organization had no one to coordinate its media campaign in Rhode Island, Duguay volunteered to raise funds to place a billboard in Providence. With early donations from Rhode Island Right to Life and a member of the local Knights of Columbus, she raised $500 and arranged for the first billboard to appear on Smith Street near the Rhode Island State House. From there, the ministry grew, and billboards began appearing at locations around the state, sometimes as many as four at one time.

“It can be involving, but I never look at it that way,” she said.

A retired sales rep with Stanley Home Products, Duguay said her long career as a salesperson prepared her for the ministry, which requires her to fundraise between $18,000 and $20,000 every year depending on the number of billboards on display. She is grateful to the many private donors, Knights of Columbus councils and parishes who have supported the work, especially those that have adopted an annual collection for the billboards. She estimates she has raised close to $300,000 over the past 15 years.

“That’s a lot of money to raise. A lot of bugging and begging.”

Father Michael Woolley, pastor at St. Joseph Parish, said that when she is not raising funds to share the pro-life message, Duguay is devoted to her family and parish life. Her ministry, he said, is unprecedented in advocating for respect for the unborn among the general public, especially those who might not otherwise be reached.

“Because of her hard work, tens of thousands of people in our diocese see each day these billboards with beautiful newborn babies on them,” said Father Woolley. “There is really no other pro-life media campaign in our diocese that compares to Georgette’s.”

At 84 years old, Duguay hopes to eventually find someone to take over the ministry but shows no signs of stopping yet. On the day of this interview, she told Rhode Island Catholic she had 1,400 envelopes waiting at home to be mailed out to solicit further donations.

“I always say the good Lord’s not through,” she said.

Over the next several weeks, Rhode Island Catholic will feature profiles of the 17 winners in the 10 categories of the diocese’s 2017 Lumen Gentium Awards, which formally recognize those who ‘toil in the vineyard’ in service to the Lord, and minister to those in greatest need in their parish or community. The honorees will be awarded during a dinner at Twin River Event Center in Lincoln on Wednesday, May 17. Guests wishing to purchase tickets to the dinner — whose proceeds will support diocesan senior priests, many of whom continue to serve in our diocese well into their older years — are asked to register online at www.dioceseofprovidence.org/lumen-gentium-awards. For any questions about the event, please call 401-277-2121.